Tensions running high ahead of Tel Aviv derby

After more than six years, the Tel Aviv derby is back, as Maccabi TA hosts Hapoel TA at the Nokia Arena.

 Erez Edelstein  (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Erez Edelstein
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After more than six years, the Tel Aviv derby is back.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv in BSL action at Nokia Arena on Sunday night in a showdown that was the highlight of the Israeli basketball season for over 50 years, but has been desperately missing from the local landscape in recent times.
Maccabi returned to winning ways in the Euroleague on Thursday, improving to 6-2 with a 78-73 victory over Chalon-Sor-Saone and moved back atop of Group B on Friday after Unicaja Malaga lost 91-72 at Montepaschi Siena.
Despite being humbled by Maccabi Rishon Lezion last month for what was its first defeat to an Israeli team since January, the yellow-and-blue has basically been its usual dominating self in the BSL, leading the standings with a 6- 1 record and winning its games by an average 21.6 points.
There were many doubts regarding Hapoel’s chances of success in the BSL after it finally gained promotion from the National League last season. But despite playing with an almost identical roster to the one they had last year, the Reds have become a force to be reckoned with.
Hapoel fell to 4-3 following a 68-64 loss to Hapoel Eilat last week, but coach Erez Edelstein has so far worked magic with the weapons at his disposal. He will have a particularly difficult job on Sunday with captain Matan Naor, who is the only player on either roster to have previously experienced a derby, to miss the game due to a thigh injury.
“It kills me not to play in this game but I trust my teammates,” Naor said. “Everyone understands how important this game is to the fans and the club and we will fight for them.”
Maccabi coach David Blatt has no injury concerns ahead of Sunday’s showdown and is hoping that the heated rivalry will not result in verbal or physical violence between both sets of supporters.
“There aren’t many similarities between a Euroleague and a BSL game, but we are certainly excited ahead of the derby.
“This is a special game,” Blatt said after Thursday’s win over Chalon.
“We have to do everything to denounce any Holocaust related songs. This is our country, these kinds of things can’t happen. If we can’t respect each other then what are we here for? “We would have been better off staying in the Diaspora. The game should be exciting and interesting, but should not include violence or hate.”
Also Sunday, Hapoel Jerusalem continues its search for consistency when it visits Maccabi Rishon Lezion in a tricky road tie.
Jerusalem fell to 3-4 last week, seeing its three-game winning streak snapped with a 91-85 loss to Ironi Ashkelon. Sharon Drucker’s team is also on the brink of elimination from the Eurocup after dropping to 1-3 in Group A with a midweek defeat at Budivelnik Kiev.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Holon hosts Ashkelon and Maccabi Ashdod visits Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
On Monday, Hapoel Eilat welcomes Barak Netanya and Bnei Herzliya visits Maccabi Haifa.